Back to the Classics

To teach, to learn, to change

What should they learn?

As I put down my thoughts on how to go about the project of creating a classically-based education online, I want to walk you through the process I went through. I want to share the foundational thoughts I had so that if there are flaws there, they can be caught and later steps adjusted. A crooked foundation makes a crooked building, as I’ve learned from years of living in cheap rentals.

When I started looking at what I wanted my children to learn, there were two key sources that I used. One was Thomas Jefferson’s statement about what public education should teach. He said the objectives were:

To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing;
To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

Another was actually a quote from Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein. It covers a lot of things that are training rather than education, but the philosophy behind it is right:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Once I had combined those I looked at other things that were important to me that were not already included. I made two lists, one for education and one for training. They are two different things, however modern education might try to blur the line. Since the Freeman Academy will be focused on education (improving the inner person) rather than training (developing practical skills), I’ll only list that one here.

  • Speak the truth without guile
  • Analyze a new problem
  • Read and appreciate poetry
  • Compose poetry
  • Tell a story
  • Speak a language other than his native tongue
  • Read Latin
  • Read Greek
  • Be familiar with classic literature
  • Be familiar with the various books of scripture
  • Relate ancient and modern history
  • Sight read music
  • Meet goals
  • Keep his body strong and healthy
  • Give a speech or talk
  • Speak extemporaneously
  • Lead
  • Follow
  • Cooperate
  • Act alone
  • Talk to strangers
  • Work
  • Dance
  • Keep and balance accounts
  • Solve equations
  • Testify of Christ and the Gospel
  • Show common sense
  • Show chivalry and class
  • Give generously
  • Spend wisely
  • Serve gladly
  • Be silent
  • Speak boldly
  • Fail graciously and gracefully
  • Participate in the public/political life
  • Know his rights and responsibilities
  • Recognize honesty and dishonesty
  • Know whether or not to fight

A few notes. First, these are not in any kind of order, and certainly not by priority. Second, this list was for my children specifically. We are a very religious family, and it shows in some of the items on the list. The Freeman Academy is not going to be a religious institution. I think people need to be at least passingly familiar with the Bible; it has had an enormous influence on the development of the Western world. But that is an intellectual, historical, and literary purpose, not a missionary one. Third, many of the things on this list are matters of character. A  school cannot really ensure that those things are understood and applied. Again, this was my intention for my children. However, a school can ensure that in the course of their studies, children are exposed to examples of these values, in literature, example, and instruction. They cannot be tested – certainly not in an online class – but they can be taught.

Lastly, I’ve considered the fundamental arrangement of the liberal arts curriculum. The so called trivium and quadrivium form the basis of all instruction. The trivium are the foundation – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These were taught first, because they allow a person to understand what is going on around them and explain it to others. They form the foundation for all other learning a person will do. Next came the quadrivium, which  were the mathematical studies – arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Those names cover much more territory than a class with that name would today. For example geometry would cover trigonometry and geography, arithmetic covers statistics and various kinds of algebra, etc. I think the trivium stands as it is well, but I would expand the quadrivium a little further. I would replace music with fine art in general – visual media as well as sound. An appreciation of what is beautiful in the world is fundamental to being a well-rounded human being. Astronomy should also be broadened to include all of the hard sciences – biology, geology, physics, and so on. Within the category of arithmetic I would also include personal finance – few things have done as much damage to people’s lives in general as not understanding how to handle money.

So those are my initial thoughts on curriculum objectives, in all their scattered glory. What say you readers? What would you add or change? What do you think a free citizen should know?

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2 thoughts on “What should they learn?

  1. naleta on said:

    I wish I could have sent my children to that school, and I would love to send my grandchildren there.

  2. Pingback: What should they learn, Part II « Back to the Classics

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